Students from Florida Atlantic University gathered for a campus rally in support of the intercultural communications professor who caused a firestorm after teaching his class a lesson which involved stepping on the name "Jesus" written on a piece of paper.
The South Florida-Business Journal reported on Tuesday that the student group FAU Owls for Academic Freedom, rallied in support of Dr. Deandre Poole, who was placed on administrative leave following the controversial "Jesus stomp" lesson, for which he received death threats.
The story took a few twists and turns after it was first reported to local media last month by an FAU student, a Mormon who refused to participate in the exercise because he said it went against his religious beliefs. Poole had apparently instructed students to write the name of Jesus on a piece of paper, then step on it.
The Mormon student was suspended following the incident, prompting Florida Governor Rick Scott to write the university a letter calling the lesson "offensive, and even intolerant, to Christians and those of all faiths."
The student, Ryan Rotela, told WPEC: "I'm not going to be sitting in a class having my religious rights desecrated. I truly see this as I'm being punished."
Poole was then placed on administrative leave, and the university said they would not teach that lesson anymore. Giving his side of the story to Inside Higher Ed, however, the professor gave a very different account of what happened.
Poole claimed that the Mormon student was not suspended because he refused to participate in the lesson, but because he threatened the professor with physical violence. He also noted that the exercise is not meant to be anti-religious, and described himself as a committed Christian.
"I am very religious," the professor said in the interview. "I see how the name Jesus is symbolic. For people like myself, Jesus is my lord and savior. It's how I identify myself as a Christian."
It was revealed that he is also a member of Lighthouse Worship Center Church of God in Christ in Fort Lauderdale, and belongs to the congregation's usher board.
Explaining the purpose behind the lesson, he noted: "One of the 'most distinguishing features' of humans (compared to other animals) is the way they view symbols, some of which are quite powerful. That's the message of the exercise. When the students hesitate to step on the word 'Jesus,' they understand that a piece of paper has meaning to them because of the word, which helps them understand the force of symbols."
As for the death threats he has been receiving following the incident, the professor revealed:
"One of the threats said that I might find myself hanging from a tree. My safety has been in question. There are churches that want to march against me. There are people calling on the university to fire me."
The publishing company behind the Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach textbook, where the lesson is contained, told The Christian Post in an email that media headlines claiming that the exercise asks students to "stomp on Jesus" were misrepresenting its purpose.
"While we are not able to comment on this specific case, we do believe that some of the coverage has misrepresented the purpose of the exercise – which has been used by the author in his classes for over 30 years – to help students understand the often powerful meaning to people of symbols and to stimulate respectful discussion around this," a spokesperson for SAGE Publications explained.